El Toro started from humble beginnings, now widely known with new concepts on the way

Springfield location came first and has led to 14 restaurants in the region.

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

What started as a father’s dream to work close with his family and share his culture has turned into 14 Mexican restaurants across the Dayton area with more new concepts on the way.

El Toro, a locally owned Mexican restaurant, opened its first location on Limestone Street in Springfield in 1999.

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

Enrique Alvarez, El Toro’s district manager, said the Munoz Family, who owns El Toro, started from humble beginnings.

“(Federico Munoz, the father of the family,) worked in the (strawberry) fields in California, and then one of his relatives decided to start a restaurant because back in the early ‘90s, late ‘80s, there was not as much Mexican food around the U.S.,” Alvarez said. “They wanted to show the Mexican cuisine to the American people and share some of his original recipes for homemade Mexican food.”

Munoz began working at El Matador in Virginia in 1989. Alvarez said this is where he learned to cook and work in the restaurant business. He then moved to a few other Mexican restaurants and eventually became part owner in El Ranchero in West Virginia. That restaurant was opened by one of Munoz’s nephews.

“He started getting experience in all of these restaurants and started teaching his kids how to work in the kitchen,” Alvarez said.

He explained when they decided to open a second El Ranchero location, Munoz helped his children become part owners. But then, due to opportunities, the whole family didn’t live close to each other and they started talking about opening a business to be together.

“(Munoz) had a dream where he dreamed about having a family-owned business where he can have his family close,” Alvarez said.

After looking for locations to start a restaurant in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky, they eventually found an opportunity in Springfield to make their dream come true.

“With the profits from their first location, they invested a little bit extra and then they opened the second location (in Bellbrook in 2001),” Alvarez said. “The second location was a bigger hit. The community in Bellbrook embraced them with open arms.”

Alvarez said everything they made at the first two locations was reinvested in a third location in Mason in 2002, which was eventually moved to Beavercreek.

The restaurants continued to grow with more locations in Vandalia, Huber Heights, Dayton, Beavercreek, Springfield, Englewood, Springboro and Centerville.

Alvarez said their key to success is building relationships with their customers and reinvesting into the restaurants.

“They keep living within their means and reinvest everything they have into the next project,” Alvarez said. “They felt like the city of Dayton and Springfield was a really good place for them to build that community.”

The Munoz Family includes five brothers and one sister. Four of the brothers, Samuel, Adalberto, Juan and Sergio, are very involved and present at the restaurants today.

El Toro has plans to continue to expand across the Dayton area.

Right now, Alvarez explained they are almost done with renovations at their Bellbrook location. They are also working on El Toro Express, a fast-casual restaurant coming to North Springboro Pike in Miamisburg. El Toro Express is expected to open this summer and provide the same type of quality food that their other restaurants offer, but more casual and an easier pick up and take with you option. Guests will have the convenience of ordering through a drive-thru, but if they want to sit down inside, they can.

El Toro is planning to open a new restaurant at 1388 E. Dayton Yellow Springs Road, east of Interstate 675 at the intersection with Trebein Road. Alvarez said architects are almost done with their part and then they can start building the restaurant. The Fairborn location is expected to open in roughly two years.

The restaurant also has plans to open a new concept in the former El Toro location at 4448 Indian Ripple Road in Beavercreek. El Toro moved that restaurant across the street to the former space of Mimi’s Bistro & Bakery at The Greene Town Center in January. The plan is to open Vallarta, a restaurant focusing on Mexican seafood, sometime this year. Alvarez said they are currently working on the menu.

The restaurant’s name, Vallarta, comes from the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta, which Alvarez praises for its great cuisine.

“There’s a lot of things we want to share with the community that they haven’t seen,” Alvarez said. “For example, the seafood. We love that and we believe the American people will be open to it.”

El Toro also has plans to add a patio to its location at The Greene.

As El Toro expands and adds new restaurants, Alvarez said it’s important to share their culture through food and ambience.

“When you’re trying to explain to people the beauty of the Mexican homes and their colors, traditions, artwork and stuff like that it’s kind of hard to explain it,” Alvarez said. “You have to show it.”

That’s exactly what El Toro has done at its newest location at The Greene. One of the main areas has a layout similar to a hacienda. Alvarez previously explained a hacienda is a large house in Mexico that features a patio surrounded by balconies and a garden or fountain in the middle. El Toro has recreated two balconies on each side of the room with Mexican-styled decorations and a handmade tree in the middle.

Part of the El Toro appeal is the inviting feeling you experience as soon as you enter. Alvarez explained Mexican culture has a strong sense of service reflecting the joy of giving and providing. In Mexico, when a guest visits someone’s house, it’s polite to offer them something. That’s why guests receive chips and salsa as soon as they sit down.

El Toro offers traditional dishes and a mix of authentic flavors. Alvarez noted the menu has changed since they opened their first restaurant. For example, they have added street tacos and birria tacos.

“They’ve always been really popular in Mexico, but it just takes a little bit of time for people to be open to try new things,” Alvarez said.

When asked what he is most proud of at El Toro, Alvarez credited the relationships built with their customers and the consistent service and care they have been able to provide.

“All of this started because of a dream of a father trying to start a business with his kids to be close to each other and share their food, recipes and traditions with the rest of the community,” said Alvarez, who started working at El Toro as a dishwasher in 2003 at 18 years old. “If that’s not the definition of an American dream, what is? Find a way to stay close with your family and create something to be able to live.”

El Toro is celebrating Cinco de Mayo on Friday, May 5 with drink and meal specials. Alvarez said Channel 99.9 will broadcast live from their restaurant at 2420 N. Fairfield Road in Beavercreek from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. There will also be a raffle for a free cruise.

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